Doug Gamble- Contributor
Gamble is a former writer for President Ronald Reagan and
in Carmel. [go to Gamble index]
Battle for California
If Bush contests the state, a match-up with Kerry would be entertaining
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry becomes the Democratic presidential
nominee, his battle with President George W. Bush
for California's 55 electoral votes could be so fierce the
Red Cross better stock up on supplies of blue blood.
The state has not been up for grabs in a presidential election
since 1988 when the first President Bush defeated Massachusetts
Gov. Michael Dukakis who, coincidentally, had Kerry as his lieutenant
governor from 1982 to 1984. The latest Field Poll showed Bush
with a 52 percent job-approval rating in the state in January,
up from 46 percent last September.
What makes California look like the site of a political death
match this time around is the fact the White House is determined
to restore it to the Republican fold, after the party lost here
in 1992, 1996 and 2000, while the Democrats are desperate to
hang on to it. While Bush can win re-election without taking
California, Kerry must capture the Golden State to have any chance
of attaining the presidency. One person's pride is the other
If the election is split in the rest of the country pretty much
along the lines it was in 2000, as many pundits are now predicting,
the nation may be holding its breath waiting for the results
of an in-play California to decide the winner this November,
rather than Florida.
The state GOP, buoyed
by Arnold Schwarzenegger's victory in the gubernatorial recall
election, is optimistic. Party Chairman
Duf Sundheim puts it in meteorological terms saying, "The
way I see it, we have weather reports. There's a wave coming
in. It could be a big wave. And if it's the size we think it
could be, it could be very good news for Republicans in California."
Bush will certainly be helped by having Schwarzenegger in the
governor's office, not only because it fires up the GOP troops
who are mostly now united, but because of the positive imagery
of the president making joint appearances around the state with
a governor who is popular even with many Democrats. Call it a
reverse coattails effect.
There are two other components in Bush's favor. One is the Nader
factor. Should the consumer crusader run for the presidency again
as head of the Green Party ticket, he could do to Kerry in California
what he did to Al Gore in Florida - siphon off enough votes to
tip the results to Bush. With the Greens gaining higher visibility
in the state through the recall election and a second-place finish
in the high-profile San Francisco mayor's race, a Nader candidacy
would appear to pose an increasing threat to the Democrats.
In addition, Bush could pick up more of the Latino vote than
he did four years ago, depending on how his pro-immigration initiatives
are received and the effectiveness of greater outreach to the
He garnered only 28 percent of the California Latino vote in
2000, but he has a history of improving his standing with minorities.
After disappointing results with Latinos and African-Americans
when Bush ran for governor of Texas in 1994, he was re-elected
in 1998 with 49 percent support from Latinos and 27 percent backing
of African-Americans, unheard of figures for a modern-day Republican.
But the Democrats will not lose their grip on California without
a fight worthy of pay-per-view. War hero Kerry is no Dukakis-in-a-tank
doofus. His battling back from early oblivion in the Democratic
field was impressive and he is starting to look increasingly
presidential, Botox or not. And while Bush will try to portray
him nationally as a liberal, California is a state where that's
Anyone questioning how formidable Kerry can be need look only
to his 1996 senate race against Massachusetts Gov. William Weld.
It included seven debates featuring thrusts and parries worthy
of Olympic-caliber fencers, with Kerry prevailing. Bush vs. Kerry
shapes up as a classic scrap, and Californians will have front
2004 Doug Gamble